Artist Spotlight: PBT School’s Kurtis Sprowls & Isabella Velasquez

Kurtis Sprowls 

Isabella Velasquez


In a recent conversation about PBT School’s year-end performances starting this weekend, PBT School students Kurtis Sprowls and Isabella Velasquez, made reference to several “Caroline MacDonald works” in which they’ve had the privilege to dance. The choreographer has worked with both Velasquez and Sprowls in four different works, and has choreographed at least five different pieces for PBT School over the past two years.

MacDonald, 20, is also their peer in the PBT School Graduate Program, and is gaining the repuatation of a rather prolific choreographer for PBT School. 

This month’s PBT School Pre-Professional Showcases – May 16-18 – and Spring Performance 2014 – May 23 – feature two of her original works set to orginial piano compositions composed and performed by PBT School Full-Time High School student Jack Hawn, 16. Sprowls and Velasquez will partner in MacDonald’s Dovetail, which received its premiere at PBT School’s Pittsburgh First Night performance in December. Set to Hawn’s richly-textured piano composition, the four-part piece features six couples in contemporary ballet choreography. “It’s very sharp and quirky visually,” MacDonald said of the 15-minute work. “It’s the most kind of pure contemporary ballet that I’ve done so far.”

The program also will feature a brand-new MacDonald work – Gust – featuring the students of PBT School’s Full-Time High School program and another original score composed by Hawn. The piece feature more than 20 students – her largest ensemble to date – and integrates inventive movement with a classical ballet base. MacDonald played with changes in dynamic, tempo and creative use of featured dancers to expand her movement vocabulary and create something very different from Dovetail.    

“Dovetail has a lot of attack to the music,” MacDonald said. “In Gust, (the music) is all extremely melodic and really beautiful to listen to. It was fun to choreograph to,” she said, adding that it is slightly reminscent of a Phillip Glass-style composition. 

For Sprowls and Velasquez, working with MacDonald and Hawn to create PBT School world premieres has been exciting and empowering. Here, they reflect on what it’s like to originate roles in a work created completely by and for their peers.

For more about MacDonald and her choreography in this Artist Spotlight profile from this past August. To see MacDonald’s works in-person, click here to learn more about Pre-Professional Showcases and Spring Performance 2014

Kurtis Sprowls, 19, PBT School Graduate Program – Orville, Ohio
Isabella Velasquez, 19, PBT School Graduate Program – Orange County, Calif.

Your Top Hobbies Beyond Ballet:
IV: “I like to bike…swing and salsa dancing…and active stuff.”

KP: “I like hanging out with my friends outside of dance whether we’re going out to eat or doing fun stuff outside especially now that the weather’s nice.”

Top-Played Song on Your iPod Right Now:
KP: “Take Me to Church” – Hozier
IV: “White Teethed Teens” – Lorde

Your Go-To Ballet Gear:
IV: “My ballet boots…they’re the comfiest things….and I always carry around my red roller…and I always have a banana.”

KP: “I always have to have coffee and my Adidas sweatpants…and my rolling out stick.”

What is it like to be part of the process of creating a completely new work?

IV: “I think it’s cool. Since (Caroline) is in our class, she knows our strengths. She puts in really individual things for each dancer… she likes to put in little soloist parts for everyone, so everyone gets a chance and usually mine is turning… you can tell looking at someone’s part that it really works for them. It’s like her choreography is meshed with their strengths, which makes it really good. I think it’s important that she knows how we all dance…so that everything runs smoothly.”

KS: “She’s a very thoughtful choreographer when it comes to seeing her dancers…and putting her movement on us and seeing how it looks. But she’s also very open to our interpretation. If we do something a little bit different than what she did and she likes it, she’ll put it in the piece. It’s a very open experience.”

How would you describe Caroline’s sense of movement? Do you see a distinct choreographic style emerging?

KS: “I think so. Just with her more recent pieces…it’s taking on its own sort of style of very technical ballet mixed with a lot of…she incorporates different parts of your body and likes to add, like flexed feet here, to draw your eye to different things.”

IV: “She’ll have a lot of contemporary movements, but she still wants your classical training in it…it’s not just throwing your body around, it makes it cleaner.”

KS: “It’s very flow-y. She likes to experiment with different partnering. There are a couple lifts that are kind of becoming her signature that we have created and built upon to make them different…She is creating her own style and you’ll be able to look at it and go, Oh, Caroline MacDonald choreographed it.”

Describe Caroline’s leadership style in the studio. How does she approach running her own rehearsals for her peers?

IV: “I think she handles everything really maturely. She stays very calm. This is a piece that has definitely the most people in it….with two casts there are 12 of us in the room…but she keeps everyone under control…it’s really nice when everyone really comes together…After we did our First Night Pittsburgh piece {Dovetail}…it all came together and it was awesome. Because it’s everyone’s hard work …it’s almost more rewarding…especially with {PBT School student Jack Hawn} playing {piano}. It’s all students, and we pulled it together, we pulled out a great show. It’s just exciting.”

KS: “She’s very professional. She keeps a good vibe. She is our peer, but when I’m in her rehearsal, she’s not my peer, she’s my choreographer…I would treat her with the same respect as I would anyone else running my rehearsal. She is in charge.”

Describe the choreography and mood of MacDonald’s Dovetail, which features you both as partners.

KS: “It starts out, the movement is kind of sharp and staccato, but it also has its moments of flow… as the music picks up it starts to flow and we all start to move as one and our individual solo parts and partnering…”

IV: Caroline’s pieces are very athletic. Not that they look athletic, but you have to have good stamina to be able to do it… There are so many different moods in the piece that I really like. There’s the sharpness in the beginning.  There’s this controlled craziness of people flowing in and out…then you have the solo in the middle that’s beautiful and joyful, and then the guys come in at the last movement and it’s more strong and powerful and the girls come in sharp and kind of sassy. It’s really cool…especially with Jack’s music, he incorporated so many different things and the way that she read the music to choreograph to, I think really works…I like to feel kind of intense when I do it.”

KS: “It was really smart. I feel like the audience will be able to connect to at least one of those emotions if not all of them.”

How would you describe your part of this work?

KS: “I think that ours is probably the most stamina-wise, because we’re constantly running, and throwing ourselves on the ground and rolling…”

IV: “We kind of start this hectic period of the dance. It’s kind of calm…and all of a sudden, Kurtis and I run out and just basically fall to the floor. It really catches the audience by surprise. I’d say it’s very intense.”

KS: “We also start a lot of the controlled chaotic parts. We start a ripple and we start a lot of the solo and duet parts. In a way, are we the instigators of the corps?”

IV: “Yeah, I can see that. We’re the instigators (laughing).”

KS: “It’s fun. It’s a really fun part.”

IV: “It’s fun to do it together. You can really get hyped up, like, ‘OK, let’s do this.’”

KS: “And we do backstage. ‘Alright, here we go!’”

Have you had the opportunity to view any of Caroline’s rehearsals for Gust, her newest piece on the program?

KS: “The differences between the two pieces – Gust and Dovetail – it shows more of her versatility as a choreographer. There’re just different pieces. They’re both very good, and from what I’ve seen of Gust, I really like it. She’s also working with a bigger group – the entire Full-time High School Program. There are a lot of dancers onstage. It’s another really good Caroline MacDonald piece.”

IV: “From what I’ve seen of Gust, there are more upper body movements that flow into the next movement. She has really cool partnering going on and cool lifts that I haven’t seen. She has people in groups, and different groups do different things. There’s always something going on….She adds a lot of complexity.”

KS: “There’s depth.”

Do you find it inspiring to be part of an original new work featuring choreography, music and dancing exclusively by students?

KS: “I feel like it speaks to the talent that is brought here by our teachers and by all of the students here. Everybody brings their strengths…and yet we’re all coming together as one. It’s really empowering.”

IV: “I think it’s really awesome that the teachers trust the students enough to literally put this whole piece together and actually perform it in the spring show…they’ve put a lot of faith in us and knowing that we can pull this together for our end of the year show…I think we’ve made them proud. I hope so!”


on performing in new student-choreographed works